Simplistic arguments from Theresa Spence, Idle No More could have tragic consequences for natives – by John Ivison (National Post – January 3, 2013)

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“De Beers is investing $1-billion in the Victor mine near Attawapiskat. It agreed to pay
the band about $30-million over the 12-year life span of the mine. A further $325-million
in contracts has been funnelled through companies owned by the band, to supply catering,
helicopters, dynamite and the like. One wonders how Attawapiskat Resources Inc. has only
made profits of $100,000 on that level of revenue, but that’s for another day.” (John Ivison)

I made the observation on Twitter the other day that certain native leaders seem intent on conflict, and that they want the “hapless” Theresa Spence, the hunger-striking Attawapiskat First Nation chief, to become a martyr.

The reaction was venomous. One of the more considered respondents, Gerald Taiaiake Alfred, called me a “racist p—k” and threatened to kick my “immigrant ass” back to Scotland. And he’s a political science professor at the University of Victoria.

It brought home the power of what psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls “the righteous mind” — the righteous certainty that those who see things differently are wrong, while being completely blind to our own biases.

The prospect of rational debate on this subject is slipping away — and may be lost entirely if Ms. Spence dies. Canada is facing a tumultuous moment in its history with its native people, such as we haven’t seen since the Oka crisis.

The Idle No More movement has the potential to radicalize a generation, in part because no one in the Harper government is making the case that it is not engaged in a “termination plan” — the allegation made in a video released by veteran native policy advisor Russell Diabo. He claims the government’s legislative agenda is designed to assimilate native Canadians through the imposition of nefarious laws like the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act.

Yet the status quo isn’t working. Everyone is agreed on that.

The Conservatives have hardly starved the system of funding; spending by Aboriginal Affairs alone (not including further cash from Health Canada etc.) rose to $7.9-billion last year, from $6.1-billion in 2006-07.

But ever since the Harper government turned its back on the Kelowna Accord struck by Paul Martin, it has maintained that the malaise on many reserves will not be cured by pouring more money into the same system. Its attempt at a solution is a series of legislative changes that native leaders claim has been imposed on them, without sufficient consultation — the new “shibboleth of our time,” according to author and academic Tom Flanagan.

Idle No More has targeted the recent budget implementation act, part of which makes it easier for bands to lease their land for development, claiming it is designed to engineer the mass sell-off of reserve land. The case for the defence — that this is a means of unlocking potential wealth for bands, and that it is purely voluntary — is not being made forcefully enough.

The Conservatives had intended to amend the Indian Act further to allow more private property ownership on reserves, but one fears for the future of this legislation in the current climate. Every native Canadian claims to hate the Indian Act but there seems to be no enthusiasm to overturn it anytime soon.

Another area where the government is attempting to make structural changes that could end the cycle of poverty and despair is by creating a First Nations Education Act, aimed at dragging native education into the 21st century. Currently, reserve schools have no regular reporting system, there is no dispensation for kids who fall behind, there is no way to certify, regulate or discipline teachers and there is no way to monitor attendance. A panel on native education last year said 100 schools are “unsafe learning environments.”

For the rest of this column, please go to the National Post website: